I'm Chris. I've been working with the Source Engine off and on since about 2009, and GoldSrc a year or so before that. I'm currently working as an environment artist at PSR.
Hey, Chris here, level designer on the Black Mesa: Hazard Course! There's a lot of stuff we notice the community has to say, and some of it is pretty common confusion, and I'd just like to clear some of that up. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but more information to go in before making a final judgement can't hurt, right? So, you can think of this blog post as a sort of Q&A, or FAQ-type deal. Some of it you might already know if you're a HC fan. Other stuff is a bit more behind the scenes. Anyway, on to the words:
Concern: Why aren't you working on Xen instead?
Believe it or not, we get this a lot, probably the most. It's flattering in a way, but we aren't working on Xen for one reason: We are not the original Black Mesa developers (Crowbar Collective). We are a team of 6 long-time Black Mesa Fans.
Additionally, even if we were, games aren't created chronologically, and there are different subgroups withing a team to focus on different sections of the project.
Concern: Why does it look like the Hazard Course is being used for something other than a training course? How come some parts look (in-universe) make-shift or cheaply made?
One of the things we wanted to do was explain the weird environments encountered throughout the course. Wouldn't it be reasonable that if it was a dedicated training course, it would be a series of directly connected, similar-looking rooms to explain things? Yes, yes it would. But Half-Life's Hazard Course isn't like that at all.
After some discussion, we took some clues from the original maps and noticed two main apparent themes: Warehouse and Sewer. So this gave us the idea, what if the Hazard Course isn't originally built to be a training course? What if Sector A was just disused, or mostly disused, and many parts were just retrofitted with some new parts, and forced a path through some old water treatment facilities and warehouses in order to create a make-shift course? We thought the idea explained everything well enough, and it's what we went with. It allowed us to use the strange environment types and still make sense of it being a course. This was one of our attempts to add some of our own little history to the area.
Concern: Development has taken forever, what gives?!
We know, and holy crap, we think it sucks, too. Project Lead DKY will actually be writing a very detailed postmortem that goes into detail on why this has taken as long as it has, so if you'd like to read it, look out for that post release. But if you want the short version: We started off disorganized and with a lot of bad development habits. By the time we were able to kick them (or most of them), Real Life™ had started eating away our time.
Concern: Why go through all the effort just for a training level?
Honestly, just because we wanted to. None of us have ever had a totally serious project before this, and thought the combination of nostalgia, and learning to work with a team would be fun. It was. We all had fun (even though we've come to dread working on the project for so long,) and we've all improved our skills massively since we started. Top that off with the fact that we're now a bunch of friends and know how to manage a small team at least, it was totally worth it! Thought his brings me to my next point...
Concern: Isn't this just a training level, though?
Personally, I would say no. It certainly used to be just a training level. But over the years, we started to realize more and more than just a series of instructions wouldn't really appeal to everyone. Most people know how to play the game, and if no one else gets a nostalgia high like we do, what's their real incentive to play? So we put a lot of effort into making it feel like a complete chapter, not just a training level. We created an introduction somewhat based on the one included in the Playstation 2 version of Half-Life, an outro sequence, and just a huge amount of additional stuff to make it feel more present in the story and universe, than just teaching the player how to jump around. If you ask me, and I'm sure the rest of the team, this isn't just a tutorial level anymore, you're experiencing Gordon's training as a level. If you learn how to nail a crouch-jump, that's a bonus.
Concern: Can I haz Alpha/Beta?
No, not yet! We've got a great testing team who have been invaluable for ideas, opinions, bugs, everything we could ever want to make our mod better. We're leaving the unfinished builds to them.
Post release, we plan to release some older builds which you can check out if you want to see how much the Course evolved over the years. We're not sure exactly what we'll be releasing, but they will most likely be the first internal version of each Alpha build (4 Alphas). We get amazed every time we look back at Alpha 1 and remember that we were happy with a lot of it.
Concern: What's going on with the Steam release? What are the plans there?
This is a lot sketchier now than we thought it would be. Initially we were thinking we could probably have a Steam version up shortly after the mod version. But at the time of this writing, there are a few obstacles:
Firstly, Black Mesa currently has a 100MB workshop limit. This is a relic of times past, and the BM guys are working to fix it. Our Course far exceeds that limit, and we're not really okay releasing it in a bunch of parts. Yuck.
Next, for some inexplicable reason, some entities that are required for our Course are broken in the Steam version of Black Mesa. This will need to be addressed by the BM guys as well.
Additionally, some stock BM files that our mod modifies can't seem to be overridden properly by Workshop mods, meaning a number of things will be broken.
Lastly (off the top of my head, anyway), we'll need to revisit a lot of our assets and make sure nothing is broken. According to the BM guys, a huge amount of their models were busted and needed recompilation once they switched to the new engine. We'll need to make sure we don't have this issue, and assess all the damage if we do.
That said, bringing The Course to Steam is something we'd love to do. If these obstacles can be surmounted, then we'll definitely work on adding it to the Workshop.
Well, that's all I've got for now. I hope I've kept your attention this long! Kudos to you if you put up with all of the above text. We really hope you guys like the Course, but no hard feelings if you don't (maybe!).
If I see one more Half-Life 2 Beta Revamp or survival horror Source mod, I'm gonna lose it. We get it, people like Amnesia, but your horror mods usually aren't bringing anything to the table other than dark rooms and a pseudo-eerie description.
And if it's not one of those, it's a remake project trying hard to insist they aren't copying Black Mesa (seriously, no one's accusing you of anything, just do your thing), or named The Faggot, or just a seemingly forgotten page, with a few fullbright, empty rooms and a vague goal. C'mon, people. A mod page isn't to reserve your idea until you find someone with the know how to make it a reality, it's to organize your media and keep connected with your fanbase. I honestly think the rules for starting a page should be at least a tad more strict.
And I'm not just saying newcomers to modding should be shunned, or that people shouldn't try and start a team by themselves. I'm saying they should start with some planning before deciding they want a 40 hour open world Source powered FPS, and then get something to show for it before using up some of ModDB's server space.
I think my number one problem with some mod pages is the developers using the same most popular assets from FPSBanana or GarrysMod.org, or using promotional stuff from AAA movies and the like. Just no.
I'm done with my useless ranting now. I complain, but I don't like to.
I've got a new thing to bitch about: "Tests."
Screenshots of anything that was a "test". Maps, models, concept art, stuff like that. I see this a lot, to the point where mod pages are filled with nothing but these "tests" and some "concepts." As far as I can tell, "test" just means either, "We don't know what we're doing," or "We admit it sucks, but we want an excuse for that."
It's never a real test, either. It's like they don't know if their software works and are testing it, not really testing anything else. A picture of a badly made map or model is not a test. If you're posting a test, it'd better be a video, and legitimately testing something other than my patience.
Just a note, I'm only posting this here because I can't fit all of what I want to say in a single review post, so on we go.
Before I start my review, I wanna direct a bit of advice towards the Triage team: Listen to these reviews, and do a huge patch.
So on to the review. Upon loading the first chapter I'm greeted by a man in a forest-ey area. This is apparently the training as he hands me a shotgun and tells me to shoot some ducks. I'll sum up the voice acting in this mod right now: Forced. The writing isn't terrible, but about 80% of the lines sound as if they're being read from a script. I know they are, but they shouldn't sound like it.
A minute and a half passes by and I'm already in a huge firefight with combine. It could be argued that this was to get the player in a sense of how urgent the situation is, but personally it's not my thing. This is an excellent time to bring up a major point: The dialogue and choreography aren't done in a way that let's you know it's happening. I was in this firefight for about 20 minutes before I realized that apparently awhile ago I was instructed to go somewhere. Which was the door that the game just made me go out of.
This is the one time in the game that I'm entirely sure of what I'm supposed to do. "Meet me at the top!" Okay, simple enough. "I'll be at the top, meet me up there!" Alright, I'm coming, already! "Meet me at the top!" GODDAMMIT. I shouldn't be instructed what to do LITERALLY every 7 seconds. They basically took Far Cry 3's tutorial system and gave it a voice, here. What's worse, after this objective had already been completed the NPC repeated to instruct me to meet him there while my new objective was to go downstairs.
Fast forward a bit, and I start noticing some graphical errors. Mostly small things, like odd reflection, but the most noticeably was my view clipping through the walls on either side of me. (IMAGE: Goo.gl )This shouldn't be happening at the reasonable FOV of 90.
While we're on the subject of graphics, I should note that the mapping for the most part is very plain. Plain building usually decorate the foreground, while the background and sky is decorated with white bloom: (IMAGE: Goo.gl) Very boring. It's not all plain and white, however, as fancy dark areas are something game gets ridiculously right! (IMAGES: Goo.gl | Goo.gl )
Of course, there is a huge draw to that. Y'see, the game doesn't offer a flashlight, and the latter half of it is spent in the dark. I wandered in the first dark are, which was pitch black for about a minute before finding the right diection. As apposed to the usual instant find, this is pretty bad. (IMAGE: Goo.gl) The effect on combat is also pretty terrifying, in a bad way. You try spotting the combine amidst the heat of battle in picth black settings: (IMAGE: Goo.gl )
Gameplay feels odd. It's sort of like some beginner programmers tried to take Source and have it replicate more modern FPS styles. Strafing moves slower than walking, iron sights exist and make your guns terribly inaccurate if you don't use them, and your weapons are ridiculously overpowered. It should not take two pistol shots to the arm to take down civil protection. The classic number style healing system is replaced with the newer red jelly wait-to-heal style. Some may find this nice, I personally hate it. At least you have to wait 15 seconds instead of the common5. Boy is that fun or what?
All in all, this is the worst mod... that I've actually enjoyed. Trust me, it has an insane amount of problems, it's like it wasn't playtested by anyone who was willing to tell them they messed something up, but... it's somehow fun. What they did do right, they at least did it decently, and the dark area designs are absolutely fantastic looking. If you're willing to look past it's glaring flaws, it's not a terrible mod. In fact, if they could patch the majority of the bugs I'd be willing to give this one a second go, and even grab the second part when it's released.
Over on the Black Mesa forums some new HL remakes are popping up to go alongside Guard Duty. Uplink: Source and Black Mesa: Blue Shift (EDIT: I'm about 95% sure that this is the mod's page). I'm just chuckling to myself and hoping someone else does Opposing Force and maybe even Decay. Black Mesa: Team Fortress Classic, anyone? Glad to see I'm not the only one that says "Piss off, I'll do it myself if I want," heh heh. Let's hope these two projects come together and finish nicely and in a timely manner.
Well I'll be damned. Black Mesa is less than 3 days away, and Hell isn't even frozen, yet. I wonder if that means something? The Hell thing, I mean. Anyway, I'm so happy, both that I'll be playing soon and for the devs, as all of their hard work will soon be released to the cold judging eyes of the world. I don't have a doubt in my mind that it'll be the best Source mod ever. It's popularity clearly shows, as well. Their website went down when word got out of the release date, and they rose to the number 1 wanted spot on Steam Greenlight (and have been greenlit as of today) in under a week. Speaking of site crashes, they say their server's will be ready for the shitstorm on this year's fateful Sep. 14. Let's hope they're right, the suspense from waiting these last 2 days is killing me and I'll probably snap if the site goes down, heh heh.
Meanwhile development on my mod Office Complex is going nice and well. Pretty fast, too. BoX has a few suprises he's been workin' on that are pretty fuckin' neat if I do say so myself, as well as both of us working on some brand spankin' new textures. I suppose I can show a screenie. It's not directly from the mod, only a texture test map, but still.
We're well on track, even though we don't update the main page often. I'm sure we'll be nice and perfectly ready come our release date. If you've been watching the mod's page you probably have noticed a sudden roar of people who think it's Black Mesa vs. Office Complex, where Black Mesa is a bull and Office Complex is the gored Spanish guy. This is no doubt brought on by Mesa's sudden release, but it's not stopping anything. We've known since day one that at any time during development Black Mesa could be released, and even when I started the project (Office Complex), knowing it could take over a year, I had a pretty firm belief that Mesa would be out by 2013. We don't care that someone else is doing it, we just wanna do it, at the very least for ourselves.
Yup, been a nice-ass week.
So I was thinking about adding to the list of "Half-Life: Uplink: Source" attempts. Only problem is; Models. I can't model for shit, and I'd need a few headcrab zombie models... Other than that I could do it... And although my last project died just before the 1 Year mark, I know I could do this with what skill I've gained since I began in '09.
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